GP surgeries across Sunderland are extending their hours this winter to allow patients more time for appointments.
The colder months see more people seeking help in emergency departments and urgent care centres across the North East.
In preparation, NHS Sunderland and South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) have given extra funding to GP practices, enabling them to provide thousands more appointments when they are needed most by patients.
In Sunderland, extra appointments will be available thanks to practices working together through "hubs" at Pallion Health Centre, Southwick Health Centre, Riverside Health Centre, Houghton Health Centre and The Galleries.
Extra appointments will be available as follows:
6pm – 8.30pm, Monday to Friday (in all hubs).
9am – 5.30pm on Saturdays at Pallion Health Centre, Riverside Health Centre and Southwick Health Centre.
9am – 5.30pm on Sundays at Pallion Health Centre and Riverside Health Centre (patients from all over Sunderland can book into these Sunday appointment slots).
10am – 2pm on bank holidays (including Christmas and Boxing Day) at Pallion Health Centre and Riverside Health Centre.
The extra GP appointments available are bookable by contacting your usual GP practice in the usual way, or, if it is out of hours, by simply calling the free NHS 111 number which is available 24/7 and you will be directed to the most appropriate available service.
Ian Martin, Medical Director at City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “One of the big issues for the NHS during the winter months is managing the sheer influx of people seeking help and who access care via the hospital’s emergency department.
"This is usually when other services have, historically, been closed and is especially true over weekends and bank holidays.
“We are delighted to be working in partnership with our primary care colleagues this winter to help ease some of the burden on busy emergency teams as we know that many of the people arriving at hospital simply do not need to be there.
"This will allow us to prioritise and treat those people who have serious or life threatening problems and who really do need hospital-based care."
David Hambleton, chief officer at NHS South Tyneside CCG, added: "Most common winter illnesses are best looked after at home with plenty of rest, fluids and over the counter medication available from a local pharmacist – they don’t even don’t even need a GP appointment.
“There is nothing worse than feeling poorly, but I would urge local people to support us in making sure emergency services and urgent GP appointments are kept free for those who really need them."